Crunchsports.com's guide to the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Ohio, courtesy of Bettingpro.com tipster Ross Aylward...
This week's WGC Bridgestone Invitational is a very taster appetizer indeed for next week's USPGA Championship and golf fans are in for a real treat.
All the world's best players are teeing up at Firestone Country Club in Ohio with the exception of world No.5 Webb Simpson, who is still on nappy-changing duties after the birth of his second child. They are headed by a certain Mr Woods, who is bidding for an incredible eighth win in this event and was last seen finishing third in the Open at Royal Lytham. His last two efforts here leave a lot to be desired - 78th and 30 shots behind the winner in 2010, 37th and 18 behind Adam Scott 12 months ago - but his game and health are in far better shape now, and he's predictably a short-priced favourite, with no bigger than 5/1 on offer.
Current world No.1 Luke Donald is next in the betting at 14/1 and the Englishman will be able to draw plenty from his current form and his second placing here 12 months ago, although he will be looking over his shoulder all week, with Tiger eyeing up the coveted top spot. Last year's hero Scott is a top-priced 18/1 and the likeable Aussie will be hoping to bounce back from his Open meltdown in the best possible fashion. Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy are hovering around the 20/1 mark, with Hunter Mahan, the victor two years ago, at 25/1. It's 30/1 bar those players and that includes some big names in what promises to be a cracking renewal.
The action gets under at around 13:30 BST, with Firestone expected to play increasingly firm and fast as the week progresses. Baking temperatures for the past two weeks will ensure the rough this week is a little less penal than normal, and that could favour the longer hitters, who can let rip and still hope to find a decent lie just off the fairways. Either way, par will be a good score on this 7,400 yard track, which features the longest par-5 on the Tour (the signature 16th at 667 yards), and has small, bent/poa greens likely to run to at least 13 on the Stimpmeter - that's lightning-fast to you and me. Only 78 players have qualified and there is no halfway cut, yet normal place terms of a quarter the odds five places apply.
My Three Against the Field:-
You can make a case for the majority of top players this week and I expect the cream to rise to the top, but none make more appeal than Scott. The defending champ will arrive here with mixed emotions after blowing what looked a gilt-edged chance of winning the Open by bogeying the last four holes. Still, he was still sounding unusually positive after that defeat, feeling that he'd played some of the best golf of his life for 68 holes, and the week off will have done him the world of good. In caddy Steve Williams, he also has a wealth of experience to fall back on and his course notes must read like a 'How to win at Firestone' essay, having been on Tiger's bag for all seven of his wins. The Aussie will also take heart from his progressive form leading into Royal Lytham, with 15th at the US Open followed by third place at Congressional behind Tiger. The latter is going to be tough to tame on his favourite track for sure and I wouldn't put anyone off having a saver, but his unpredictability puts me off wading in at 5/1 and Scott looks a safer conveyance for my money at what is a fair price.
I've passed by several classy Americans - Rickie Fowler and Jason Dufner were the two that really caught the eye - to get to my second pick, who is better value than that pair at 45/1. Certainly, the Italian is entitled to be a bit shorter based on some stellar form this season, which has carried him up to third in the Race to Dubai and fifth in the Ryder Cup points list. Since finishing sixth in the high-class Volvo China Open back in April, his form figures read '1-7-46-29-10-2-2-39', and he will be hopeful of improving on his previous two performances here of 39th (2010) and 11th, which could have been better but for an opening 73. He followed that with a second round 64 and that must left an indelible mark as he recently tweeted that Firestone was amongst his favourites courses, which is some statement as he's not prone to over-exaggeration. That's not gone unnoticed and I see the shrewdies have gobbled up all the 50s, but don't let that stop you grabbing some of the current price while it lasts. Get in quick!
With just three qualifying events left until the teams for the Ryder Cup are announced, several players will be pushing hard to grab a slice of the $8.5m prize money on offer, and the Swede has more reason to play well than most. Currently eighth in the points table, he will be conscious not to leave it as late as last time, when victory in the Czech Open just two weeks before the cut-off carried him into the automatic places, and Firestone clearly holds no fears for him. It was here he finished an excellent solo eighth when making his debut in 2010 and he followed that with a far from shabby tied-21st 12 months ago. Stateside, he's stepped up again this season with top fives at Augusta and Doral, the previous WGC event, and that is better form than a fair few ahead of him in the betting. Granted, he has shown a tendency to wobble when leading on Sunday, which is why he's arguably better value in the 'without Woods' market, but even a place this week will ensure a healthy profit.
Scott Piercy, one of last week's 'three against the field', won at 50/1, and that was following on from Ernie Els at 45/1, so fingers crossed one of the above can bring up the hat-trick - enjoy the action!